Listen to the new single from Elevation Worship!

Listen to the new single from Elevation Worship!

Tenth Avenue North


On the heels of the release of their latest studio album Followers, lead singer Mike Doheney of Tenth Avenue North caught up with our very own Alex "Tincan" Caldwell to discuss fear, following Christ, and album art...
This interview took place on: October 4, 2016.

Click here for Tenth Avenue North's Artist Profile page.





  • JFH (Alex Caldwell): I saw you guys in Maine twice this summer.

    Mike Doheny: Yeah you did!

  • JFH (Alex): Once you guys got called off because of thunder. Do you remember that?

    Mike: Oh yeah. Was that in Maine or was that in New Hampshire?

  • JFH (Alex): That was in Bethel, Maine at the River Rocks Festival. Your hand was up and you were about to hit the guitar chord for song number five or six and the stage manager rushed out and you said "thank you, goodnight."

    Mike: I was so bummed out because the crowd was feeling really good.

  • JFH (Alex): Yeah you guys were just getting warmed up! I saw your face and I thought "oh no, what's happening" and then I saw the radar report. We drove home after that through essentially a hurricane. It was insane! You had some friends of mine open up for you--Epic Season.

    Mike: Yeah we actually met them that day. They are so sweet man. A couple weeks before someone had tweeted me and I watched them cover our song, and they put a rap in it. I said "that's fun."

  • JFH (Alex): Is that how that connection started?

    Mike: No, the promoter had already sent the band over to our management to okay that they were to open for us. I didn't even realize that was the band that was opening for us when I watched the video. So it was all kind of random.

  • JFH (Alex): Do you take bands under your wing in the same way that maybe someone did with you guys five, six years ago?

    Mike: Yeah it's funny you say that--there's a band we just met out in Huntington Beach last month, and they came to Nashville with their parents. So Jeff, our guitarist, and I spent a couple days writing with them and helping them understand the songwriting process. So yeah, absolutely! I think the really practical answer to that is when we first started playing at festivals and opening up for other bands, there were several times where I was super bummed out because all the other bands that were headlining stayed in their bus all day. (JFH: They were inaccessible.) Yeah, and rightfully so. Now doing it, I understand how, maybe if you're a dad then you are on the bus talking to schools. There's all kinds of things that people need to do but I just try to make it a habit of going out and searching out the young bands that are there. Not because I think I have any great answers necessarily, but because when I was in that position I was bummed out when I didn't feel comfortable approaching the other bands.

  • JFH (Alex): Knocking on the bus and being like "hello sir."

    Mike: "Hello Mr. TobyMac, sir."

  • JFH (Alex): I do appreciate Christian music because there is a sense of mentoring that is missing in other parts of the music business. When I talk to secular bands it's more cutthroat. So I'm grateful. My friends Unspoken got taken under the wing of a couple other bands early on, and were encouraged. They were going to give up. They were at the crux of 'alright should I call it a day and go back to college?' You know that moment?

    Mike: Oh yes!

  • JFH (Alex): Did you ever have that moment where you asked yourself "should I keep doing this? Or should I go be a youth pastor or something?"

    Mike: Yeah I did. It was after our first record came out. "By Your Side" had just hit number one. So we had two number one radio singles and we were still riding in the van. We were opening up for Sanctus Real at the time, or maybe Roadshow. Both tours were out on the west coast and we were the only band in a van. So we hadn't slept in a year, basically, driving through the night and getting paid $30 a show and we just said "this is unsustainable." We had been independent for years--we put out four independent records--and that was actually a pretty good gig. We'd go to friends' houses, hang out, play a show, and play their Church Sunday morning. Or we'd go to a camp and we'd be there for a week. So that was more of a sustainable way of life. But when we were the opening band in that van, and you are just driving through the night, night after night, eating bologna sandwiches out of a cooler we said "something's got to give."

  • JFH (Alex): So what was the moment that the sunlight came out?

    Mike: We got to be on a bus! *laughter* We did a tour that fall--we opened up for MercyMe and we got six bunks on their crew bus. Just going to bed and sleeping, and waking up in the next city, I said "ohhhh--this is how people do this!"

  • JFH (Alex): When you guys have the album cycle and you think about the first song "I wonder what he's thinking putting this song on first" and it's "Afraid." And I thought "that's very appropriate for what's going on in America, especially the election season when fear is such a driving force." Was that what you were thinking when writing that song or was there something else you were thinking of when you were writing about fear?

    Mike: Well actually, Jeff brought me the basic idea of a song the day after the Paris bombings and I said, "this is fitting, man. Let's write this." And so it was really that. And as the record's theme of being followers of Christ took shape, the most repeated command is "don't be afraid." It's interesting because you don't think of that as being "what does God want most from me?" If I were just going to stack it mathematically, by Him commanding me five times more than anything else to not be afraid, then I could say the one thing--beyond a shadow of a doubt--the number one thing God wants from me is to not live in fear. But let's be honest, we are afraid, because we're sinful. We build our identity on things of this world and we build our identity on things that can be taken from us. So that prayer is just me wrestling out the fact that God is offering me this fearlessness and I keep gripping onto reasons why I should be afraid. And I have to eventually go "okay Jesus, let me just submit that You have better intel than I do."

  • JFH (Alex): Well said. That's actually my Bible study tonight--talking about Naaman and dipping seven times and how he didn't want to do it. So the servant said "well maybe God knows something you don't know." And Naaman was struck and said "I'm going to humble myself and dip in this water even though I'm a general and this is way beneath me." God had something he wanted them to learn--there is no one above me, and if you want healing you've got to go through the humility. Do you think that fear-based living is something that the Church is struggling with? Like the circle the wagons kind of thing and creating our own atmosphere. There's a lot of fear based in that and we come up with our own solutions.

    Mike: Yeah. Here's the deal--I love what Tim Keller says in Counterfeit God. All our problems are the same in that we have idols. You have things that should be of some importance, but you make them of ultimate importance. And when you make something that is eventually going to be taken away from you, when you make that your ultimate importance, then you are going to live in fear because anytime you feel that thing shaking underneath your feet you're going to start getting anxiety--including, for the Church, your ministry status or your leadership status. I read this book--I forget who said it--he was leading all these ministries and he was super burned out. And then he said he went away with the Lord and he felt God say "in the end, all the ministry you are doing for me, even that will be stripped away when you stand before my throne. But you will always be my son." And I think it was Tozer who said "if you want to know the depth of someone's spirituality, consider what they think of being a son or daughter of God." Or maybe it was Charles Spurgeon. But just that idea that you're a son should be one of the highest things that you esteem.

  • JFH (Alex): And the ramifications for that are huge. Like what you do to make yourself more secure--whether that's in life or in spiritual life. But fear causes people to do funny things and I can see the Church sometimes, in America particularly with the political season that comes, living in this fear like it's all slipping away. And that's why a song like that has an impact, saying "why are we building our foundation on political things or the safety of the suburbs or name your thing you do to get away from what's scaring you."

    Mike: If we are a reflection of Israel in the Old Testament, then Israel wanted a king.

  • JFH (Alex): That's right! All the other kingdoms have a king, why don't we have a king. Israel is like my 11 year old—"why don't I have an iPhone? Cindy and Bob have an iPhone. I'm the only one without a phone." But it's interesting because Samuel says "you don't know what you're asking for. If you get a good one, great, but if you get a bad one there is no way to get him out of there." And he says this prophesying "God says okay, but I need to say this fist. What you are choosing is going to come back on you." And so I think about that with believers in America or the western world where we think of it as a very safe wonderful thing--you know democracy, clean water, safety--and the moment it gets threatened you start to say things that are unchristlike with attitudes that are unchristlike.

    Mike: Yeah it's interesting if you actually read from Church leaders in heavily persecuted areas, none of them ask for the persecution to stop. They always ask for the strength to endure it.

  • JFH (Alex): That's humbling to me when I think about praying for my first world issues. I love that song because it got me thinking "I hope this resonates with other people." As the top of the album order, here's a song about following. But number one is trust. Number one is you have to have belief in who you are following to do it well.

    Mike: Absolutely. You have to say "this world cannot take my treasure." What's your treasure? You can begin to do Indiana Jones and step into the lion's den. When noting can be taken away from you, that's when you can start walking forward.

  • JFH (Alex): Or like Peter in the boat. Taking that step. And the idea of "What You Want" which follows it, is this idea of reshaping my priorities. So even the way you sequenced the message is something I really appreciate.

    Mike: I care about that stuff! I appreciate you paying attention.

  • JFH (Alex): I think of playlists and I think of how things are changing in how people listen to music. But when you get that CD when you were 13 you listened from top to bottom and you absorbed it. It's an old school way, so I appreciate that. And you've done that a couple times now. In Cathdrals you really hit on "No Man Is An Island" and then you went from there to say "we're all in this together." I appreciate that more than just a bunch of singles.

    Mike: Right. And even our records kind of build on each other. Over & Underneath is the Gospel. Christ is above and below--above the purest and below the worst. We can all be saved. That's where the healing begins, that he's strong enough to save you. You can be honest about your struggles. You can be honest that you feel worn. It's when we're honest, that's when we'll actually start to find one another, we'll be in a safe place with one another, we'll become cathedrals, a dwelling place of God. And now that we are these cathedrals, let's go out into the world. Let's bring this out. Let's follow Christ into the unknown. But if you're going to follow Christ you can't do it with fear. "What You Want" is a statement of saying way more important than what you do is why you are doing it. And it's something I think the Church has really missed, because we lift up certain occupations. It's almost inevitable. And we ended Cathdrals with "All the Earth Is Holy Ground." I love Martin Luther's statement, "the milk maid has just as holy of a calling as the clergy." (JFH: I don't believe in secular things...) Yeah, imagine if everyone at Church felt just as much empowered to be the Church when they left on Sunday. That's my dream. I think that's Christ's dream.

  • JFH (Alex): Look who He chose. You have everyone from fishermen and blue collar guys to Harvard educated tax collectors and doctors. There was really no cohesion to it. It was a cross-section of people.

    Mike: I heard a great sermon about how in Acts when there's Lydia, who is white collar, owns her own business, she's a garment maker. Then you had this demon possessed girl, basically a prostitute on the lower east side of the bridge. Lydia was educated, and then you got this blue collar Roman jailer. They're all in the same chapter, and they all get saved totally differently. And I love how the sermon was basically, to some, God will come through intellect, to some God will come through power, and to some God will come through the testimony of the way someone lives.

  • JFH (Alex): You put out this video a couple years ago where you said like you just said to me, about how the albums sort of stack up. And I'm glad you did that because it helps people see the bigger picture of things. I really enjoyed it because it was more than "I'm gonna throw out this thing and then tour and then rest and then do the whole thing again." You actually have a sense of doing a big ministry in your life. People are wired differently--like you're wired differently than TobyMac is or name your dude or dudette. I just appreciated that as a guy who likes seeing a big theme. And album covers too--you guys have had three really good album covers in a row.

    Mike: Oh, thanks!

    Album Cover
  • JFH (Alex): Something that looks good on vinyl, you know what I mean? I loved Cathedrals, I loved The Struggle, and then this one I love the bold colors. I'm a big album cover guy, sort of an old rock and roll sentimentalist.

    Mike: This one's actually going to be on vinyl.

  • JFH (Alex): Yeah it's going to look sharp. I'm just sad when artists don't spend time on album covers.

    Mike: Tim Parker, who works at our label, he's a mad scientist. He actually did our first two, but the bigger powers-that-be won over. You should have seen some of the mock-ups that he made that didn't get picked. We were all fighting for them.

  • JFH (Alex): I'd love to see that. And you're first two aren't bad, don't get me wrong. But a strong image is a great chance to make a statement. Keith Green had some really good album covers. Did you ever see the one for So You Wanna Go Back To Egypt?

    Mike: I can't picture it.

  • JFH (Alex): Look it up. It's convicting. When I was a kid I would stare at it because my parents had it on vinyl. I think I grew to love album covers as an art form from my parents' collection. And so when I see a cheesy album cover it breaks my heart. Do you get asked a lot about hot button topics? Like "hey, what do you think of Hillary or Donald?" or this thing or that thing?

    Mike: Not legitimately. We might get asked every once in a while about something on the internet, but it never feels like they actually want to know. It's usually either "I want to agree with you or burn you at the stake." *laughter*

  • JFH (Alex): There's not a lot of nuanced conversations?

    Mike: It's a sad thing. With the internet you'd think we have more ability to have nuanced conversation, but we seem to be more tribalistic than ever.

  • JFH (Alex): Oh absolutely! I can curate my friend list to the people who agree with me.

    Mike: Yeah, that's the thing. Even the news feed is being curated to you. So less and less, you're being presented with ideas that you disagree with. Google is curating your search and filtering what things will get put in front of your face. It's a weird time, man.

  • JFH (Alex): It is a weird time. It's worth telling people, "don't be afraid to read something you don't agree with. Tell me why." My life group at Church is full of people on either side of the political spectrum who are reading their own stuff and so I appreciate you have said a couple of tough things both in your internet blogging and in concert that challenge me. Like "what is he saying there?" I don't see that too often from the CCM world. So I think you have a unique voice there.

    Mike: I actually just finished a book to coincide with the record.

  • JFH (Alex): That's exciting! You've got a Rich Mullins sort of vibe where he was not afraid to say something crazy to challenge people.

    Mike: It's all a matter of why you say it. You just have to have a heart that goes "I just really want people to understand this." And then hopefully that bleeds through even though some people will just stretch what you say no matter what. You just have to brace yourself and be ready for that.


    Tenth Avenue North's latest album, Followers will be available on October 14th, 2016!




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